On the 19th January 2016 the Bishop of Peterborough, the Rt Revd Donald Allister, took part in a short debate tabled by Lord Hanningfield, “To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to help improve education standards in United Kingdom prisons.” Bishop Donald spoke about his recent visits to several prisons and the challenges presented by studying for qualifications within a prison. The Bishop also urged the Government to include restorative justice as part of its education provision within the prison estate.
The Lord Bishop of Peterborough: My Lords, I, too, am grateful for this debate. I also note with great pleasure a number of changes made to policy and practice in this area by Mr Gove since he became Secretary of State. I gladly thank him and the Government, particularly for allowing prisoners greater and easier access to books. But if educational standards in prisons are to be improved, as they desperately need to be, we still need much more joined-up thinking. I will give two examples.
The first I discovered on a visit I made to a prison during the coalition Government, although I suspect it could just as well have been today. I visited a very impressive unit which trained female prisoners in catering, giving them a range of skills needed for working in that sector. One prisoner told me that she was close to completing a course which would lead to a nationally recognised qualification but that she would not be able to complete it because she had just been given very short notice of being moved to another prison. I asked her if she would like me to say something to those in authority, to which she replied, “Thank you, but don’t bother. We expect this. It’s just the way the system treats us”. The system should not treat prisoners or anyone else in that way. We talk about a patient-centred NHS. What about a prisoner-centred Prison Service, not least as regards education and equipping for outside life?
My second example relates to the importance of holistic education. Surely the work done to help prisoners change wrong behaviour patterns—important programmes such as restorative justice and resettlement training—should be seen as part and parcel of the whole educational provision and aligned with it. But the funding of these programmes has been reduced and reallocated to the new community rehabilitation companies. Surely this must make the holistic approach—connecting educational provision with behavioural change and rehabilitation—much less likely.
I am grateful that Her Majesty’s Government have initiated this review. I urge them to ensure that prisoners get the life-transforming education they need—for all our sakes.